This week, Chelsea Handler stepped in as guest host on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
The comedian brought her A-game, and as the news cycle would have it, Handler was tasked with handling the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, the sentencing of both Ghislaine Maxwell and R. Kelly, plus the Jan. 6 hearings.
When announcing her week-long gig, Handler commented she was hosting Kimmel’s show “just in the nick of time to comment on all of our rights being taken away,” offering a preview of her no-holds-barred take and strong point of view when tackling the topics of the day.
Now, in conversation with Variety to discuss her week hosting “Kimmel,” Handler says she is ready to make her permanent return to late night.
“I have, obviously, very strong and loud opinions and I like to share them. Especially during a time like this, it’s nice for a lot of people to have a female voice out there,” Handler tells Variety. “And it’s really got me got me thinking. These conversations happen every couple of years about whether or not I want to return to late night or I want to return to a talk show, and I just always think of some reason why I don’t want to do it.”
“I feel like this is a time,” Handler continues, “Where it’s so important to be represented and to be representing women and to remind people why it’s so important to be loud and to be strong and to be indefatigable about it and to get up and say something. It gives a lot of people comfort when they have somebody speaking for them — you know, not just a white guy, who I’m sure is on our side, but it’s just different. There’s really nobody that can experience what it’s like to be a woman other than one of us. So having anybody else comment on that, white men’s opinions are pretty irrelevant.”
The late-night space has always lacked women. Samantha Bee has her long-running series on TBS, and Amber Ruffin hosts her show on Peacock. Lilly Singh had the extremely late-night slot on NBC for two seasons, but with that show now cancelled, there are no female hosts on network late-night TV.
Handler says she has not had any discussions with CBS, with the recent announcement that James Corden is leaving his “Late Late Show” after next year. But she is open to the possibility, should it present itself.
“I personally have not had any conversations with anyone other than my agents, and they were just testing the waters to see how interested I was, so I haven’t talked to anyone directly about a specific slot,” Handler says. “But yes, I am interested in getting back out there. So, I will be talking to all these people about what those opportunities look like and if that is the right spot for me. I will consider it when the conversation matches my interest level.”
Handler is also bubbling on the idea of rebooting her E! series, “Chelsea Lately,” in an elevated, revamped version that she reveals she would call, “Chelsea Later.”
Handler hosted “Chelsea Lately” on E! from 2007 to 2014. She then had a documentary series on Netflix, followed by a talk show with the streamer, titled “Chelsea,” which ran from 2016 to 2017. Her latest comedy special, “Evolution,” was on HBO Max, and she is currently shopping around a new televised standup special from her “Vaccinated & Horny” tour, which she recently shot at the Ryman in Nashville. But now, she is ready to make her comeback to a regular late-night seat.
“It’s the same white man problem. There are too many white men doing the same job,” Handler says.
“I can’t explain why there aren’t more women hosting shows — maybe it’s a lack of interest, but I doubt it. I think that people think it’s a man’s job,” she adds. “I thought I made a real dent by doing my show and proving to people that you can be a woman and host a late night show, but it seems like people need to be reminded one more time. And I might be that person to remind them.”
Here, Handler talks to Variety about her week hosting Kimmel, her idea for a reboot of “Chelsea Lately” and why she is ready to return to late-night and possibly, network television.
Have you had any conversations yet with any venues about launching a new late-night show?
We haven’t had conversations yet. We’re just starting to talk about it in a more serious manner, and I feel like I’m at a place in my life where I’ve had the time to really reflect and understand what my toolset is and what my strengths are and how I perform in that environment. I know that that is my skill set, so I am taking it more seriously and am considering it on a more serious level.
You’re in a position now where you can do whatever you want to do, so if you were to have your own late night show, what would that look like to you?
I think I would like to reboot “Chelsea Lately” as “Chelsea Later.” There are just too many great, talented comedians that are coming up that I want to give a voice to, and there’s just an overabundance of straight white guys over a certain age that get a lot of props in this medium. We have a bunch of talk shows, but we need the format that really brings joy and can take the piss out of everything that’s going on politically and culturally. We have to have a sounding board for that, and that person is me.
There’s a lot of discussion about political correctness in comedy, but I’d argue that late-night comics can say more than ever in today’s broadcast television. That’s probably the Trump effect because five years ago, I don’t think you could trash the president on network TV. You certainly didn’t hold anything back this week on ABC. Did you feel like you had creative freedom?
That’s definitely the vibe I got from doing “Kimmel” all week. We were able to write monologues that were catered to me. It was definitely written for me and my voice, and that is something that we probably wouldn’t have been able to get away with before. I think you have a good point there.
In 2017, I interviewed you at Sundance when you were doing your Netflix show. I asked if you wanted to interview Melania Trump and you said no because “she can barely speak English.” That interview got a lot of backlash, but honestly, that’s one of the more tame things you’ve said in recent years. It seems like because of the political vitriol nowadays, comics can say a lot that they couldn’t say before, and that the audience is more accustomed to hearing people say whatever they want to say.
Yes. And well, I also think Melania has proven herself to deserve that kind of retribution.
You did a bit on Melania on “Jimmy Kimmel” this week.
We were going to call her a prostitute and then they said, “No, she’s sued people for calling her a prostitute.” I’m like, “But technically she is a prostitute, so why can’t we say that?”
With that said, was there anything really that you got pushed back on? Or could you pretty much say what you wanted to say?
You know what’s so funny? I always used to say I never wanted to be on network television because they would never let me do my thing. But I have to say, this week on “Jimmy Kimmel,” I did basically whatever I wanted and it was received so well. The amount of attention and messages I’ve gotten, it really feels like coming home.
When discussing Roe v. Wade in your monologue on “Kimmel,” you proposed legislation for men’s bodies. One line was, “If you get a woman pregnant, you have to wear a leech on your scrotum for up to nine months and then breastfeed it.” Another one of your lines was, “Every time you masturbate, you have to throw a funeral for your Kleenex.” A man can’t say that. They just can’t. But there is no woman hosting a late-night network show. Do you think it’s finally time?
We have Amber Ruffin and Samantha Bee, so there are women and I don’t want to pretend like there aren’t. But it’s not enough. Men can’t speak for us. They should be on our side and they should be fighting for us, but they still can’t seem to manage to do that in a way that is tangible. We have to lead the charge and this is the time. We’re irate. We’re so pissed.
On “Chelsea Lately,” you had a roundtable format with comics and introduced a lot of talent. Is that something you’d want to infuse into a new show of yours?
I think what was so unique about “Chelsea Lately,” and what I probably didn’t value as much at the time, was how many careers that show launched, whether it’s Fortune Feimster or Jo Koy or Kevin Hart or Tiffany Haddish. All of those people had a part in that show. Something else I take a lot of pride in is that when we were doing that show, nobody was telling us to have diversity or put this person in. Nobody had to tell us because it’s a natural thing that happens with comedy. If you’re not a narcissist, you could see that other people have something to bring to the table, and that elevates the show so much. We should all be looking to uplift everybody else and not be hogging the spotlight all the time for ourselves.
There have been so many comics that have opened for me on the road that I’ve learned about and discovered, which I had on “Jimmy Kimmel” this week. I have a great eye for talent and for comedy, and I want to put those people on a roundtable. I want to sit there and shoot the shit and talk politics and talk current events and talk culture, in a way where you are being respectful of other people. There’s no world that I live in where you can’t be funny without making fun of people — it’s just so ridiculous to even say that. it just means your skill set is so limited.
That said, how do you feel about the state of comedy right now?
I take issue with everybody complaining about how hard it is to be funny in this “PC world.” It’s not hard to just respect the new rules. It’s not hard to not discriminate against people in the medium of comedy. That’s weak. I’m so sick of everyone going, “You can’t say this.” You can’t say that? Well, good. That just speaks to your level of talent, if you can’t work within a certain set of parameters. We shouldn’t be making other people feel bad about themselves, anyway.
You have a lot to say about politics right now, but would you still want to infuse pop culture in a new show of yours?
I think there’s a more mature kind of iteration of “Chelsea Lately” where it’s not making fun of Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears anymore. We’re not doing that. It would be a group of comedians around a table commenting on the day’s events and commenting on the insanity of everything that’s going on, whether it’s the Kardashians having 250 million Instagram followers or we’re talking about Russia and Ukraine. No matter how serious it gets, there’s levity there — and there is a dearth of levity right now.
You’ve been on cable and streaming. Do you have a preference on which type of platform is the best format for your comedy?
I’m not positive. That’s a question for my agents. They’re better versed in that arena than I am. But I think it’s got to to be on every night, or it’s going to have to be a high quality one hour every Friday, like a Bill Maher type of show. The problem with Netflix was that it was too nascent a network for them and it was too nascent of an idea for them. The schedule kept changing and it wasn’t consistent, and with shows like this, you have to be consistent. I already have proven myself in that arena, and I don’t think it matters if it’s a broadcast or streaming platform, but whatever it is, it has to be devoted and consistent and steady with your intention.
So, if you were to reboot your show as “Chelsea Later,” how would you describe the show?
An elevated version of “Chelsea Lately” is what I envision. It would be with a lot of people who were on “Chelsea Lately” and also new people. A lot of these late night shows, you watch them and it’s a different guy, but it’s the same shit. We need new energy. We need new vibes. I’ve taken enough time off from that job to know exactly what needs to be done.